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Indie Quintet Whee! Brings Their Eclectic Sounds to the Local Music Scene

Making their debut in the midst of the pandemic with a cryptically named album, Whee! offers listeners a down-to-earth and prismatic experience that draws from the musicians' harmonic bond. 

The band's written name Whee!, stylized with an exclamation point, ought to be pronounced as “Wheeeeee!” — the prolonged ending vowel characteristically conveying the joy and naught that their music flaunts.

And whether it's intentional or unintentional, the name of this five-member band also sounds like "we" — like jigsaw pieces in a puzzle, or parallel lines in a staff. Harmony and unity exist in everything the group does, when they’re on stage or in the recording booth. As Dư Quốc Vương — the band's vocalist and composer — put it: “Our goal is to all have the same goal.”

In Natural Key

​Whee! made their debut in the music scene with the single 'Thời gian để yêu' (Time to Love), an alternative rock track with an upbeat tempo and cheery lyrics about budding love. ‘Thời gian để yêu’ was released on YouTube in February 2020, but Whee! started much earlier on in 2019. Two founding members, Quốc Vương and Bảo Nguyên, already knew each other from a children’s music project, and wanted to start their own band. The duo then released their sophomore single called ‘Vệt son 00:12’ (Lipstick mark 00:12), a punk-rock track made of heavy bass riffs and Quốc Vương’s raspy vocal.

The punk-rock influence in Whee!'s debut tracks might have given the false impression the the band would go pure rock.  

By the time Whee! released their single, 'Bất bình thường’ (Unusual), their boisterous tune had shapeshifted into something more nonchalant. While their previous tracks might have led people to believe that Whee! were your typical gritty rockers, this release allowed the group to redefine their musical identity as versatile and inclusive. Whee! then followed up with the single ‘I don't want to be your friend,' a jazz-infused continuation of their new musical direction.

In their first year as a band, Nguyên and Vương relied on the support of friends and fellow musicians to fill out the vacant roles. By mid-2020, Whee! had welcomed the addition of Hạ Thuy as the keyboardist, Phi Hùng as the drummer and Ka as the bassist, who is also Whee!’s youngest and only female member. This has been the group’s lineup since the single ‘Bất chấp’ (Heedless), and also the lineup that, according to the members, "should stick together for quite some time."

The band started out with two founding members, Nguyên (left) and Vương (right). 

By mid-2020, Whee! had welcomed the addition of Hạ Thuy as the keyboardist, Ka as the bassist, and Phi Hùng as the drummer (from left to right).

While their initial releases were stellar, Whee!’s presence in the music scene slipped under the radar when they first came out. With new blood bringing in fresh ideas, the group composed their first full album, featuring a seven-strong tracklist. Upcoming tracks such as ‘Sài Gòn’ and ‘Ừ thì em cứ chia tay’ (Yes, let’s break up) have been teased at live performances to receptive audience.

When asked why Whee! chose to go with an album instead of releasing a string of singles, which is a common antic among new musicians, Quốc Vương said the group wanted “a milestone” to celebrate their collaboration, so “things just naturally happened.”

Listeners can think of Whee! as a close friend.

Although the entire album is about love, each track presents a different mood and setting. While ‘Bất chấp’ conveys the innocence of a blossoming relationship, ’My Last Goodbye' dwells on the nostalgia of a lost one. The album, titled "Mat Ngu," puts its listeners into the same emotional trance that envelops lovers with grief and joy. Phi Hùng said: “Everything in this album happened organically, from Nguyên's composition to Vương’s lyrics. When we make music, we put in whatever feels natural to us, because it would feel authentic to the audience.”

"Mat Ngu" showcases the band's ability to work with different genres.

It’s part of the reason why Whee!’s music cannot be put into any boxes. But Quốc Vương believes that their songs have a common denominator: sincerity. "We want our listeners to think of Whee! a close friend, whom they can share their sadness or happiness with. Come rain or shine, we have something to make them feel listened to and understood."

Stronger together

Whee!'s enigmatic profile can be attributed to Quốc Vương, who was a contestant of the second season of Sing My Song. At the time, Vương was recruited by coach Lê Minh Sơn for his distinctive rock vocal, and showed a somewhat mature and “tough” stage persona, which is a stark contrast to the bubbliness listeners would expect from Whee!’s discography.

When asked what had changed his writing approach from a few years ago, Quốc Vương laughed and said that the biggest difference was that he no longer had to be “the lone wolf” as he now had his bandmates. “Thanks to them, I feel like I have overcome my previous limitations. My compositions have also become more flexible because we all have unique strengths and perceptions. It’s like they have removed a ‘seal’ on me."

The five musicians are all busy with their own jobs and lives, like Quốc Vương who is a secondary school English teacher, or Ka who is a full-time office worker. But having to balance different personas and life experiences adds to the group’s creativity when creating music. Bảo Nguyễn is responsible for syncing the members’ views into their mixes, so everyone can show their own flairs.

The album's title "Mat Ngu" is written sans diacritics like a secret code for listeners to decipher.

With how busy everyone was during the recording of their first album, there were weeks when the group could only meet for 2–3 sessions, where they all “lost sleep” and felt “dumbed out.” This is how the name "Mat Ngu" came to be, written unmarked as a kind of "code" so “listeners can have their own interpretation," said Bảo Nguyên. Those all-nighters also helped the members open up about their stories. One person's misfortune could become an inspiration for others to write. As such, Ka became the richest well of creative material for this album.

Having been separated from the stage by the pandemic, Whee! couldn’t help but long for the time they were together on stages and felt the beaming energy of the audience below. However, the group finds solace in the fact that right now, they can still make and play music, wherever they are. “In adversity, we have to look to the positive in order to get through it together,” Ka said.

[Photos courtersy of Whee!]

Quãng 8, which means "octave" in Vietnamese, is a series of articles on Vietnam's new generation of unique music personalities. Know an interesting musician and want to introduce them to our readers? Send us an email via contribute@saigoneer.com.

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